Coronavirus and Special Education at Home: 10 Tips for K‒12 Students and Their Families

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Special education students across the nation are now learning remotely and online, some for the first time. For many students and their families, a transition to online learning can be a big adjustment and, at times, uncomfortable. With this in mind, special educators at Connections Academy®‒supported schools encourage you to first focus on your student’s health and well-being. Assess this regularly as you and your student work with teachers in the online environment. Below are some tips for learning at home. You know your child best—you’ve got this! 

Tip #1 Review special education or Section 504 paperwork

Reach out to your child’s teacher if you don’t have a copy.

  • Familiarize yourself with your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 plan. Review educational goals, classroom modification supports, and areas of strengths and needs.

  • Talk with your child and his or her teacher about what students were learning and what their daily schedule looked like prior to transitioning to remote learning.    

Tip #2 Develop a structured daily schedule

All students are used to schedules and routines. Create a daily schedule for your child that includes time for assignments, breaks, eating, and play. For consistency, consider mirroring the Monday through Friday schedule your child had in school prior to the closure. See additional resources, tips, and best practices for learning online at home, including sample schedules.

  • You can print a daily schedule, develop your own, or download our sample. Set hourly, daily, and/or weekly goals with your child. Based on your child’s needs, create learning blocks that are 30 to 45 minutes, with breaks in between.

  • If you do not have school-assigned work, use a combination of physical materials and online resources to address all the academic areas each day, if possible.

  • To help transition between activities, use a timer or another cue to alert and prepare your child for a change that is about to happen.

  • Set time to move, whether you are going for a walk, doing an exercise video, or dancing to music for fun. 

Tip #3 Identify dedicated workspaces and required assistive technology

  • Survey your home and locate dedicated areas for your child to complete schoolwork. Aim for a desk, table, or counter space that is comfortable and free from noise and distractions for completing assignments. Mix it up—a change of scenery can help refocus students, so consider different comfortable areas in the home.

  • If your child needs assistive technology to access their education, contact your school or special education service provider. Examples of assistive technology tools include audio players and recorders, timers, and text-to-speech software. 

Tip #4 Modify lessons

Lesson modifications may be listed on your child’s IEPs or Section 504 plans. Modifications are adjustments to the assignment that may better help your child learn the material and complete activities.

  • Break up projects into smaller, manageable parts.

  • Use manipulatives, such as beans or coins.
  • Color-code materials for each subject.

  • Keep instructions clear and simple.

  • Extend time to complete projects, tasks, tests, and quizzes as needed (use a timer or alarm so your child can manage his or her own time).

  • Read aloud to your child when possible if that is his or her preferred method.

  • Help your child take notes as he or she reads.

Tip #5 Identify physical and online resources

  • View our resource list of additional educational resources to enrich your curriculum.

  • Find books, magazines, coloring books, recipes, or workbooks to use with your student.

  • Look for free virtual field trips, offered by many institutions.

  • Use cooking, chores, and crafts as elective learning opportunities. 

Tip #6 Encourage your child to use all his or her senses

Special educators often use a multisensory approach to support student engagement and learning. You can use this approach, which encourages using all senses to learn, to help reinforce learning with your child too.

Visual learners take information in when presented visually. PBS Learning offers videos, lesson plans, and activities.  

  • Use graphic organizers such as charts, graphs, and diagrams.

  • Redraw your pages from memory.

  • Replace important words and concepts with visual cues like a symbol or initials to help with comprehension.

  • Watch instructional videos online. BrainPOP offers a wide variety of online videos.

Auditory learners understand information better when it is presented orally. Audible and your local library offer online books. 

  • Record your student’s summarized notes and listen to recordings.

  • Talk it out. Have your child explain the topic they are learning about to you to help deepen his or her understanding.

  • Have your child read and explain notes and assignments out loud—to you or siblings. 

“Hands-on” learners like to be in motion and benefit from tactile opportunities. Scholastic Learn at Home offers daily projects for students to complete.

  • Do hands-on lab experiments or projects.

  • Use pictures and photographs to help illustrate concepts.

  • Alternate traditional study sessions with real-world applications.

  • Explore outdoor spaces, following your town’s safety guidelines. 

Tip #7 Use open conversation to work through obstacles

Your child may need help overcoming learning blocks and obstacles throughout the day. Help your child talk about this so you can make small changes and improvements to your schedule, approach, or resources used. 

  • Let your child know that everyone gets stuck from time to time. Share your own experiences from a time you felt the same way. 

  • Ask your child to walk you through what they have been working on and why they think they are stuck. Ask what they think they should be doing differently. Monitor and adjust!

  • Use open-ended questions like, “Tell me about what you are reading.”

  • Connect the assignment to something your child loves and enjoys. 

Tip #8 Stay connected with teachers, friends, and family!

  • Encourage your child to communicate with others on the phone or through email, text, or FaceTime to talk about school, life, and learning online.

  • Consider playing online games that allow students to interact with each other. 

  • Reach out for support or to say hello to your child’s teacher if he or she has shared contact information.

  • Use online forums to chat with other families about your experiences and concerns. Be sure that your child’s online activity is done safely and is monitored by a parent. 

Tip #9 Celebrate successes

  • Identify things that motivate your child and offer them as a way to acknowledge and celebrate a job well done, like finishing assignments or working through difficult tasks. Consider things like stickers, time listening to music, watching television, playing a board game, playing outside, or talking to a friend or relative. 

  • Verbal praise goes a long way! Celebrate with your child as he or she finishes assignments and completes the week. Acknowledge that your child is doing the best he or she can.  

Tip #10 Take care of yourself and your family

  • Take things one day at a time—transitioning to online learning from home will get easier.

  • Encourage your child to talk to you about how he or she is feeling and help them process what is happening in the world. 

  • Play board games, share stories, tell jokes, dance, sing to music, or watch a movie together.
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